You could miss it on a map, or drive right through the middle a dozen times, without knowing it had a name. Key West comes to mind, what with the neon buildings, laidback vibe and eccentric artistry. But this tiny island is no Key West. And it’s no wonder you’ve never heard of it. (By the way, it’s pronounced mat-luh-SHAY.)
A whopping 37 times smaller than the most famous Florida key, Matlacha was, in a way, created as a means to an end in the 1920s. A positive side effect to the job at hand, which involved building a bridge from the mainland to Pine Island. With the project underway, the shell fill dredged from nearby oyster beds ended up forming what is now Matlacha, located right off Pine Island.
A thriving commercial fishing industry took hold shortly thereafter. That is, until 1992 – when a ban on gill nets protected certain species of fish but damaged the local economy. However, Matlacha is nothing if not positive, and its residents reinvented the island into the creative scene synonymous with it today.
Walking down Pine Island Road – the main two-lane, sidewalk-less street – reveals bold art galleries like Lovegrove Gallery and Gardens. Known for her vibrant tropical creations, artist Leoma Lovegrove is quite the Florida icon. Her work is even sold at Bealls department stores, ranging from tableware to handbags to wall art.
If you keep strolling through the island, you’ll also uncover one-of-a-kind gift shops, beachy furniture stores, restaurants offering freshly caught seafood and Bohemian-inspired boutiques. Most are painted in vivid, crayon-worthy shades. All welcome out-of-towners and neighbors alike.
Once you’ve made your way through town, head out on the water. Paddleboard at your leisure around the entire island or kayak down Matlacha Pass to surround yourself with nothing but nature, including manatees and dolphins. Or, if you’re up for a bigger sea-faring adventure, find fishing charters offered across the island.
At the end of the day – no matter what brings you to funky little Matlacha – now you’ll know there’s no shortage of uniqueness to be found. The island embraces its quirks, inviting you to do the same.
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